If you’ve been paying attention to Modern over the past few weeks, you’ll see there was quite a heated discussion over Treasure Cruise. While I was firmly on the side of Treasure Cruise being busted, it wasn’t until more renowned players started weighing in that finally people stopped claiming we were just scared of a new format. Esteemed Malasada expert LSV talked about Treasure Cruise being completely busted in his UR Delver videos. Other high-level players on Facebook and Twitter mentioned how ridiculous Cruise decks in other formats were.
Finally though, we have the last bastion of hope, what would Pod master Sam Pardee play in a funsies (2.5K) Modern tournament?
I want to touch on one actual counter-argument I see coming up more now and it’s likely the most valid. There aren’t a ton of results to support Ascendancy or Cruise auto-dominating like we’ve mentioned they would. My counter to this is pretty straightforward: there are almost no major Modern tournaments for people to really care about. For the ones that do pop up, it takes a lot of commitment to dump whatever deck you usually play in Modern and switch over to one of these new archetypes.
On Magic Online where there’s consistent Modern tournaments firing every day and cost is less of an issue, it makes sense the Delver and Burn have jumped to ridiculous rates already. It also encourages more experimentation utilizing Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time in decks like Twin and Scapeshift. It becomes a bit more obvious when you look at Legacy and see Cruise make an immediate impact and already start to alter the metagame.
That’s the key though—started to—these formats aren’t like Standard where you expect the metagame to catch up in a week or two. As a result I wouldn’t be surprised if most Modern tournaments, until the GP and Pro Tour roll around, aren’t dominated by these decks. They’re extremely powerful and I expect them to be the future top tier, but right now it comes down to how much penetration the cards are getting. There’s a reason everyone competent who picks up these cards has immediately recognized them as absurd. Just because the Ascendancy decks right now are beatable doesn’t mean they’ll stay that way once the pros get around to working on them.
For now, instead of rehashing the banning or Legacy Lite arguments, let’s talk about the format as it will soon be (or has become on MTGO):
The pillar strategies:
Jeskai Ascendancy Combo
Other Blue Combo (Twin & Scapeshift)
Decks that are hanging around:
I thought Affinity would be in deep trouble for sure when I realized the best decks post-Cruise were mono-Lightning Bolt decks or combo. Instead Affinity is one of the last remaining bastions of fair Magic in the format since you can clock people on turn four and run Chalice of the Void to disrupt many of the key decks in the format. Some have taken to only sideboarding Chalice, but I prefer maindecking it since right now defending your threats against Bolt is so important. Then again I’m pretty sure even last season I was big on playing it as a big dumb midrange deck that occasionally killed people on turn four.
So what changes? Well Springleaf Drum can’t be relied upon any longer so we have to keep our mana commitments placed firmly in reality. Signal Pest also takes a hit, but it hasn’t exactly been a powerhouse card for a while now, worse still because more decks run Anger of the Gods and Forked Bolt now. Ensoul Artifact goes back to the full playset and Chalice actually does bonus work here, giving you another 0-cc Bolt-proof artifact to enchant if needed.
Steel Overseer was too slow as a 4-of for my taste and is now in an even faster format. Plus Forked Bolt. Still, with Chalice and Spellskite I’m already conceding that playing a longer game is in my best interest. I’m jamming these and basically pretending to be a Cranial Plating or Ravager combo deck. There are just not a lot of good reasons to want to run X/1s in this format unless they have an amazing secondary function.
So again, our main threats are now Plating, Ravager, Ensoul, and Master. The deck is configured in such a way that it’s reminiscent of Counter Cat. Etched Champion was one of my favorite cards against fair decks and still is against UR Delver, but I prefer just killing people with Master and X/4s now. Dinging them for 2 a turn was more interesting before they could potentially just draw a bunch of burn and kill you.
Note this is for a very specialized expected metagame and shouldn’t be taken at face value for some local tournament. This is configured much more around beating up MTGO and the future real meta than a random GPT or 1K. You’d be way better off taking one of the older lists and boarding in 2-3 Chalice and Spellskite as appropriate otherwise. The sideboard should give this away, because I’ve designed it for very specific swaps, the biggest being Stubborn Denial over Chalices against Twin and Scapeshift. Illusory Angel is also a very narrow solution against artifact hate and attrition plans based around 3-damage removal and Ancient Grudge.
On Fair Combo
Modern has done a reasonably good job of policing combo decks over the years. Dig Through Time, however, is not a very fair Magic card. In fact, Dig takes these fairer blue combo decks and makes them incredibly consistent, allowing for far more turn four and five kills with protection.
If anything their interactive nature should have you a lot more worried about them than the much more linear Jeskai Ascendancy combo. In other words, it’s a lot easier to hate out, even with Glittering Wish to help out. Dig is the closest thing you’ll see to a blue Demonic Tutor, going seven cards deep in a Modern deck typically lets them see 1/5-1/6th of their remaining deck. By nabbing two cards it daggers discard spells especially badly as you can no longer just blindly hope to 1-for-1 and leave them unable to find their combo. Digging for both pieces may not always happen, but netting one piece and another Dig or an interactive spell to buy a turn or two definitely is.
This may actually be bigger news for Scapeshift which typically has to endure—spending more cards on both setup and buying time to resolve Scapeshift. Dig easily replaces Peer Through Depths and allows you to nab anything you need. This makes sideboarding more effective as well, since your best search spell is no longer limited by type. In fact, every deck utilizing Dig Through Time gets a major boost to their sideboarding power once we move into a format with lots of powerful hate cards.
Dig and Cruise also both help remove the need for massive redundancy in either deck. While Scapeshift may still want the max number of its namesake, Twin was already shaving copies of combo pieces and this makes it even more intriguing. You can get even closer to playing a UR Control deck or a UR Combo deck without having to fully commit to either thanks to Dig.
Also, while G/B/X decks may take the biggest hit in terms of their game plan, let’s not pretend that normal control strategies or Delver decks don’t also get splash damage. Post-board you can become very focused on defeating a key piece of the opponent’s strategy and reload a lot more easily than they can.
I suspect even if Cruise and Ascendancy were run out of town that Twin with Dig would be the best deck in the format, but that at least is pretty beatable as far as combo decks go. It also wouldn’t devastate attrition strategies to the extent Cruise does.
Burn and Delver
Friend and Treasure Cruise enthusiast James Fazzalori has already written a bit on UR Delver and I expect to see more from him on it in the future. I firmly believe it to be the best deck in the format at the moment and I don’t see that changing unless Burn overtakes it. Speaking of Burn, gaining Monastery Swiftspear and Treasure Cruise just pushed it over the top. It was getting help in every set, but now it has reached the critical tipping point where it’s just the most consistent aggro-combo plan in the format.
If you play on MTGO with Burn right now you may as well jam four Dragon’s Claw in the sideboard as well. This is a more dangerous version with the mirror running rampant, but I definitely like having access to Cruise and potentially multiple sideboard options. It also gives you an out against Burn players who are willing to pony up for Leylines, since right now they aren’t ubiquitous because of budgetary reasons.
Delver and Burn are actually very similar in that they threaten very effectively with a subset of the best creatures in the format and then back it with burn. In Delver’s case it can also switch modes to protecting and disrupting via countermagic while Burn just throws more damage at the problem. This is why I’m a fan of Snapcaster Mage in Delver decks still as I find it’s best when it’s slowing down slightly and playing a longer game. You can make a hyper-aggressive Delver deck and some even run Lava Spike to help with that. At that point, I wonder if Burn wouldn’t just be a more effective method for accomplishing what you want. Even if it means splashing for TC and possibly Delver of Secrets.
I’ve had a lot of fun playing with Treasure Cruise because it’s so stupidly powerful. It reminds me a lot of playing Caw Blade pre-Batterskull and Sword of War and Peace where you could play very intricate mirrors with tons of interesting decisions…
Or you could just pick up a Skull on turn two and the game would shortly be over. Mirrors get more boring the more TCs are involved—and against decks that aren’t playing these cards? Well, it’s usually just a joke. The biggest issue with plotting a solution deck right now is that Delver, Burn, Twin, Ascendancy, and Pod are all operating differently enough that you really just have to pick two or three to be good against and suck it up on the last match.
Modern went from a deep format not dominated by blue to one where it’s silly if you sleeve up Forests or Swamps. Enjoy it while you can, because chaining TC is one of those feelings that’s great for a short while and then hopefully it gets banned before it becomes boring and then depressing.